When you bribe your child, you condition their behavior: do this and you’ll get that. There are the obvious bribes like “be a good boy and we’ll go for ice cream.” In this case you are conditioning their behavior with the promise of food. And then there are the not so obvious bribes, yet they still set up the same type of conditional response such as “After you clean your room, you can watch the movie.” The action of cleaning the room is rewarded by the ability to watch the movie. It is these less obvious bribes that concern me more, because I think we all do them at one-time-or–another and we are totally unaware.
I believe there are things we are supposed to do and need to do in life and these things don’t get rewards. They are a part of everyday life.
Bribery, in whichever form, sets up a dynamic where a child expects to be rewarded for doing something ordinary –like being good or being responsible – and that just doesn’t happen in the world.
I see too many adults with a sense of entitlement and I believe, in part, this stems from being bribed. They have a conditioned expectation that when we do what is expected, needed and required of us, we should somehow be rewarded for it.
As adults this turns into seeking validation for our actions and needing someone to tell us that what we have done is acknowledged and valued. And as adults the way in which we fulfill that need for validation is oftentimes unhealthy. We may use food or we may have a need to ‘treat ourselves’ to something expensive. We may also find ourselves unmotivated unless there is some sort of perceived reward involved.
As Conscious Parents (Teachers, Care-Givers) we need to be aware of the way in which we phrase things.
I call my husband a ‘word mincer’ because he’s so acutely aware of words and their nuances, but I’d say I rank right up there with him with this one. I am acutely aware that the way in which we say things can create dynamics we didn’t intend.
When we say “You have to clean your room first,” of course (for most of us) it isn’t our intention to use the movie as a bribe. What we are really saying is, ‘before you do anything else, you need to do the things that must be done.’
What if instead we say “You need to clean your room before we even discuss what you want to do.” There is no indication that watching the movie and cleaning the room are somehow dependent on each other. But it’s clear that it isn’t even a discussion until the room is clean. This establishes room cleaning as a responsibility. It isn’t rewarded; it is something that needs to be done.
I’m a firm believer of letting kids be kids and of giving them room to play and explore, but I’m an equally firm believer in teaching kids to be responsible and active participants in our day-to-day lives. They are never too young to contribute to the family nor are the ever too young to understand that participation is what family is about.
If you find yourself in an unexpected situation where you have unintentionally set-up the “what’s in it for me?’ dynamic with your child, it’s time for a family meeting to discuss what it means to be part of your family. You can speak directly to the ‘what’s in it for me’ response and let your family know you are putting an end to it. Lay out a list of household responsibilities and assign them to each family member and remember to include on that list all the things you do every day. Make it clear that life’s responsibilities are just that, part of life. The reward is the life you all create together.
© 2012 Christine Agro
Christine Agro is a clairvoyant, naturopath, Master Herbalist, conscious mom and author of 50 Ways to Live Life Consciously as well as of The Conscious Living Wisdom Cards (Special Moms’ Edition). Christine is founder of The Conscious Mom’s Guide , a membership site where she helps support you on your own journey of living life consciously and on your journey of being a Conscious parent. You can also join Christine on Facebook. To contact Christine or to schedule an appointment with her please email her.